The Navy is a warfighting force, which is why it is imperative to have a program like the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course. It is a life-saving course established in May 1962 designed to provide the necessary knowledge, skill sets and methods of survival for evading enemy capture, resisting exploitation, and escape from captivity. It provides tactics, techniques and procedures to live within the obligations of the Code of Conduct and adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional integrity to return home with honor.
The recent celebration to honor the 50th anniversary brought in both current and past SERE instructors, with some from the 1960′s era, as well as former prisoners of war, and the most recent graduating class. Petty Officers Xander Gamble and Todd Frantom went to Kittery to cover the ceremony and share this personal perspective.
Retired U.S. Navy Commander Robert S. Fant, Jr. is a true American hero.
Fant enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in December of 1960, and went active duty in January of 1961. He started his career as a Yeoman on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, but then he went to Officer Candidate School and eventually became a Radar Intercept Officer (RIO).
On July 25, 1968, as a Lieutenant, he was forced to eject over a North Vietnam rice field and was taken as a Prisoner of War (POW).
For almost five years, Fant lived in a Prisoner of War camp in Vietnam in terrible conditions. Sixteen of those months, he was listed as Missing in Action. He was not released until March of 1973, with 591 other POWs.
When he returned to the United States, and was debriefed, Fant continued his service, and signed on to be the SERE training officer from 1974 to 1977.
Much of the course that involves resisting interrogation is based off his personal experience.
After he retired from active duty military service in 1980, Fant went back to work as a civilian for another 20 years.
He told me that the SERE training program is one of two programs that help produce what he believes to be the best Americans he knows.
His is only one of many stories that I had the opportunity to hear while I was here. But every story showed just how great a program SERE is for our warfighting Sailors. The tools they learn, they hope never to have to use in a real-life scenario, but every single one of them feels that, if it came down to it, anybody that has been through the course is prepared to “return home with honor.” It is, in part, knowing and living the military code of conduct that helps them get through whatever circumstance they may end up in.
The code of conduct is as follows:
When talking to them, they all felt that Article VI was the most important part of the code of conduct to them. That they will never forget that they are Americans, and that they are responsible for their actions. That is why they fight to, as the school is appropriately named, survive, evade, resist, and escape; so that they can return home with honor. Ultimately, that was the biggest thing they talked about.
Sitting with these heroes, hearing their stories, and seeing what I have seen, I know that I have come away with a much greater respect for the training that this school provides my fellow Sailors and Marines.